Aurelio Martelli, Nativity of the Virgin, oil on canvas, 150 x 264 cm, 1667. San Giovannino della Contrada del Leocorno, Siena. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0).

Painted for the chapel of the Madonna della Pace in church of San Giovannino in Pantaneto, the Nativity of the Virgin, signed and dated “AURELIO MARTELLI FECIT 1667”, is Martelli’s first known work. A preparatory study which takes up the central group with the midwife and angels is at the Uffizi, Florence (inv. no. 4637S). The painting reproduces in reverse a similar composition by Giovanni Battista Ramacciotti (Palazzo Pitti, Florence). Martelli’s work is characterised by enthusiasm and emotional intensity. Each woman in the scene has a role to play: two midwives to the left are making preparations for the bath, while another midwife to the right pours water from an elegant pewter jug, preparing the newborn’s bath. The baby is a wriggling delight, capturing the fascination of the midwife washing her and the putto preparing her towel. Martelli captures the frenzy and excitement of women who need to make themselves busy for the arrival of the Virgin into the world. In contrast to all this activity in the foreground, the background reveals a calmer and more intimate scene in which St Anne props herself up in bed, dignified, taking a sip of a drink, while midwives attend to her.